June 22, 2015

To Print or Not to Print?

A few weeks back, I listed several of the questions facing authors who publish independently. Today, I want to dive a little deeper into one of these. With every book that comes out, someone decides the format(s) in which it will be initially released. And with independent authors, we know exactly on whom that decision falls. 

Nowadays, a digital release isn't even a question. But many authors dream of seeing their books take physical form, and independent publishers don't necessarily have to satisfy a sales quota or compromise on subsidiary rights to make that happen. If you do decide to offer a print copy alongside your digital one, a whole new trickle of questions builds into a flood that can seem to bowl you over. The earlier you start thinking about these questions, of course, the more manageable handling each becomes.

Once you decide to publish in print, you must ask yourself:
  1. Will you offer print simultaneously with your digital release, or only after you see how well your digital book sells?
    • A print format requires a different cover (front, spine, and back, though you can of course keep the same "front" cover as your digital book if you have editable files from your cover artist) as well as different and much more complicated typesetting. While you can of course hire someone to provide these services for you, a print copy will always cost you more time and more money on top of that which you will have already spent on your digital book.
      • The good news is, you absolutely do have the option of waiting to release your print copy until you recoup costs from digital sales. If you never recoup costs, you are left without a print book, but also with lower losses overall.
      • On the other hand, doing a separate print release adds new marketing costs, as you will definitely want to promote your book being available in print so people actually know to buy it.
      • And, print copies make fantastic giveaways for your book's original release.
    • Option number 3 is to crowdfund your print release. I would recommend doing so after you can demonstrate that there is demand for your digital book, but in the interest of honesty, I have no experience with crowdfunding as of yet.
      • If you have insight here, please feel free to share in the comments!
  2. What format and trim size will your print book be?
    • Hardback? Trade paperback? Mass market paperback? When it comes to a novel, the cost of printing in hardback tends to be too prohibitive unless you have an established and enthusiastic audience. Still, it's up to you to know and understand the differences among softcover options.
    • Mass market paperbacks are ~4.25"x7". These are the books you see on shelves in grocery stores, and they are very popular in the traditional model, because they are traditionally printed on worse paper and sold at the lowest price possible (currently for romance these are still ~$7.99). The idea is that at the lower price point, you'll sell more copies and end up making the same amount or more, plus have more readers. 
      • Interestingly with POD, at least with Ingram Spark, mass market and trade paperback books will cost you, the publisher, the same amount per copy. CreateSpace doesn't offer the mass market size.
    • Trade paperback are softcover books that are not mass market style and format. They can be just about any size you choose: 5x7, 5x8, 5.25x8, 5.5x8.5, 6x9, etc. And you have to decide which size is right so your cover designer knows what size your paperback cover should be and what size the spine of your book will end up being, which depends on the interior layout, which is also affected by the size you choose.
      • Not all sizes are offered by all print-on-demand services, but an independent printer should be able to offer you any you would like, and the ones listed above are all perfectly "standard" for the industry.
    • So how do you choose? Honestly, for me, the question came down to some simple issues. First, I like being able to carry books with me, and I think one of the reasons romances are so often printed in mass market format is that so do readers. I also personally think a 5.5x8.5 book is just too big for softcover, making it neither here nor there among formats (so 6x9 is also definitely out). Some professionals say the most convenient format is anything in the 2:3 ratio. Others will point out that having your book be too tall means it's less convenient to put it on a reader's shelf among other paperbacks. Plus, a less common size might actually draw attention to your book if you do get it placed in bookstores or other in-person sales venues.
      So ultimately, it comes down to personal preference, as long as your printer can accommodate your choice.
  3. Will you use a print-on-demand service or an independent printer?
    • If you don't have a massive following or a huge list of preorders for your physical book, you probably want to go with the on-demand option, because:
      • Traditional printers have minimum print runs and may not be able to match the per-price copy of each print book below a certain threshold — in other words $$$;
        • Of course, if you go with the crowdsourcing option, you may have enough initial orders to justify a print run with a printer. It still likely makes sense to set up a POD provider for future sales.
      • You have to store those books somewhere, and you have to mail them individually to readers (as opposed to your POD provider doing this);
      • You'll have a more difficult time navigating sales through online retailers like Amazon and Barnes & Noble, to whom your POD provider will distribute.
    • Choosing a POD provider is a complicated topic unto itself, which I discuss here.
  4. How will you price your book?
    • Granted, this is a question you have to answer for every format, print or digital. But when it comes to print, you need to calculate your cost per book; your shipping & handling costs if you will be taking care of those yourself (handling really means supplies used to package the book, or a store & ship service); your wholesale discount (depends partially on your choice of printer); and what profit margin* you ultimately want per copy.
      • *In this case, by "profit margin" I mean [retail amount] — [printing, shipping, and/or wholesale retailer costs], not profits after you recoup your initial expenses. So if you spend $1000 on printing your book and have a "profit margin" of $1 per copy sold, you'd still have to sell 1001 copies before making any true profit on your book overall.
    • You also want to make sure to price your book close to the standard for your genre and format, but that can vary wildly, even among largely unknown authors for the exact same format. 
    • Plus, you should leave at least some margin in your price for discounted sales. For instance, if it costs you $10 to print a copy (which it shouldn't for a standard size and length novel), you probably shouldn't set the retail price at $10.99, because as soon as you discount it to $9.99 you'll be losing money.
      • And, if you want someone else to sell your books, they'll pay you something like $6.99 for that $10.99 retail price. Both Ingram Spark and CreateSpace have calculators to help you figure this out, but they do still require some math savvy – or help from a trusted friend!

As you can see, questions facing independent publishers can sometimes snowball. There is almost never a cut-and-dry answer for each person or even each book, and one decision affects your options for another. Still, if you do your research and are prepared, you can end up with a beautiful product on your shelf and in your readers' hands!

If you liked this post, you may also like: 7 Decisions Facing the Indie Publisher

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